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The responsible solution to uncluttered and green metropolis

Micro Metropolitan Mobility (MMMs) or otherwise known as eMzez.

We’ve all seen the video or the ensuing snapshots taken from this LosAngeles evening traffic report with an almost infinite continuous trail of white and read lights. To think that most of those lights belong to suburban’s vehicles going back home where most “homes” are located somewhere inside the first belt, the second one maybe, perhaps the third one, or even... well, you get the picture!

This may be L.A. but the same problem exists in every large metropolis around the planet. L.A. being L.A., this just inflates it out of proportion!

Metropolitan traffic nowadays is not caused by central city dwellers even though, interestingly, most new autonomous mobility solutions presented are targeted specifically to their needs. The real problem lies at the other end of the journey: the suburbs. And, with ever increasing urban sprawling, the challenge it brings is not making itself any easier to resolve in a foreseeable future!

The main mechanism that governs this issue is very mathematical or more visually, very geometrical.

If we were to draw a circle with a compass from the city center and open up the radius up to the last populous suburban belt, we would find the largest population density in the middle gradually decreasing as we move away from the center. Geometric rules tell us that the area of our circle increases at the square of our radius. So, as we move away from the center, the pace of this areal expansion goes pretty fast. The population density is the complete opposite; it shrinks pretty fast as we get to the outer edge of our circle. It doesn’t mean that there is less population over the periphery of our circles but that the demographic density is less than inside the city core and that it’s distributed over a much, much greater territory. Lower density often goes hand-in-hand with cheaper property prices and that’s what attracts an ever increasing number of young families.. families where both parents more often than not continue working in the urban center and thus add their “grain of salt” to the already saturated daily commuting traffic.

Portland, Oregon, as an example, offers one of America’s most praised public transportation service. They have a subway system, an efficient network of metropolitan trains and a good coverage of municipal bus routes. To illustrate our point, we’ve greyed out a 1 mile radial corridor around each main rail transit circuits to get a glimpse of the population that are living within walking or easy biking distance from a main station. As good as the grey serpentines coverage may look, the white areas outside the vicinity of main rail transit circuits are not meeting the expectations of the common professional suburbans. As we move away from the city center, the white portion of the land devoid of main transit service becomes much more disproportionate to the limited transit corridors. No government nor private sector developer would be willing to finance the multiplication of those main transit circuits to offer the same proximity service for all of those suburban areas... it just would not be viable with such huge area to cover. This scattered population therefore has some options:

  1. drive straight to work. This seems to be the preferred choice of the majority of suburb dwellers unfortunately.

  2. take their personal car to the train or subway station in hope of finding parking. This almost never works because of limited availability so they just end up driving to their office.

  3. call a taxi. 250 working days a year? ... just too expensive.

  4. participate in a ride-sharing service. Suburbans want their freedom to depart and return at their own convenience and let’s not talk about COVID’s repercussions on that model!

  5. work from home. This has to be the best solution and I wish it could become more mainstream after what COVID thought us but judging by the recent gradual return to a quasi “normality“, we have to admit that not much has improved from the pre-COVID era... traffic is back to normal!

  6. take the bus. I put this one last because there is much to talk about this subject. This is what our politicians and urban planners envision as the proper solution to feed main transit hubs with a constant supply of commuters. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t cut it! Actually, buses are most definitely the major deterrent to attract a critical mass of average professional suburbans to leave their personal cars at home. Buses are the “loathed” mobility offering for good reasons. They’re packed, loud, uncomfortable, cold in the winter, hot in the summer, often free standing, they do not allow working and perceived as a poor man’s transportation by the majority of the clientele that it needs to be targeting... well after students and low income commuters of course.

We need to come up with a better offer or with a new assortment of offers that will respond to the true needs of suburbans... their true reality. What we are trying to accomplish here is to provide first mile (and last upon return) mobility for suburbans to opt in larger numbers for commuter trains or subways in order to reduce the massive carbon footprint generated not only by personal vehicles usage but by the century long social model of personal vehicles ownership. Because... even if we were to swap all those private vehicles to EVs, the traffic congestion would not improve and the worldwide production of private cars, SUVs and trucks would still amount to around 70 million units annually generating close to 600 billion Kg of CO2. To think that all those vehicles are used in average only around 2 to 3 hours per day and therefore sit close to 22 hours parked somewhere and the majority of those vehicles are commuting daily with only one passenger to add to the nonsense. Where we should aim for MaaS to drastically reduce our carbon footprint, we are still very much into MaaSS, i.e. “Mobility as a Social Status”!

Autonomous vehicles are most definitely the key to the solution, IF or rather WHEN we can make them freely operate unsupervised in all safety. Here again, most proposed business models are presented as large vehicles operating in a purely urban environment where they add their own substantial footprint to the already densely populated traffic flow. For purely urban transit, ATHENA strongly believe that active mobility and micro-mobility coupled with easy access to public transportation (subways, trams, monorails) is the sound solution to adopt. The true value of autonomous MaaS is more adapted to meet the needs of the greater metropolitan clientele. There are benefits in operating in less dense suburban areas such as the reduction of traffic data needed to be processed compared to a saturated purely urban environment but there are drawbacks as well. The territory to cover is much more broad making the installation of newly required communication infrastructures more numerous and costly. Such investments will still be worthwhile though just from the cumulative data being collected and traded from this untapped pool.

To address this misunderstood need, we are seeing a variety of new EV autonomous mobility startups presenting large 4, 6, 8+ passengers concepts for first/last mile commuting. These heavy, complexe and costly vehicles will need to be operated at full capacity in order to be profitable which will be their own demise because most suburban will still view those as public transportation meaning that they will need to share their commute with unknowns and adapt their schedules to the greater good. All these “too large” proposed vehicles will require more material to fabricate, more batteries to operate, longer charging times, more maintenance, greater energy consumption just to actuate their steering systems and a slew of other devices that enable full autonomous mode. All this to operate at minimal capacity perhaps 9 times out of 10 during the weekdays.

The average suburban professional may only switch in sufficient numbers from daily driving a personal vehicle to taking the train or subway if only there is an economical, efficient and personalized shuttle service available that would compete against ownership of a personal vehicle (cars, SUVs, trucks). Not only does it need to compete over cost which is very easy to accomplish but, more so, over convenience. What the metropolitan areas of this planet need are on-demand, light, affordable, single or dual occupancy (max) autonomous vehicles that are well integrated to public transportation hubs. Like a swarm of buzzing valiant bees continuously feeding the hive with fresh honey, our autonomous micro-shuttles would feed the major transit hubs all day with a fresh supply of suburban commuters from door to door. To perform that task with minimum carbon footprint, those eMzez would need to be affordable to design, to build, to test, to assemble, to operate, to recharge and to maintain. They would need as well to be safe, comfortable, attractive, light and perhaps even fun.

This is specifically where ATHENA is investing its energy with its Pivoting Axle technology. No other EV platform technology can be made simpler and cheaper while offering an abondance of dynamic control capabilities without resorting to any actuators. What the Pivoting Axle technology brings is a shift from traditional hardware complexity to an almost complete software operation where all the vehicle’s dynamic behaviour is simply controlled by individually modulating the torque and speed of the 2 electric motors mounted at each end of a single flexible composite transverse axle member. A central processing unit is all that is needed in comparison with scores of expen$ive electro-mechanical components that the Protean or REE proposed solutions both contain for their independent corner axles. The cost advantage of a Pivoting Axle architecture alone makes the trade appraisal versus such complexe and competing solutions an axiom.

Where a competing independent corner axle solution necessitates a copy of all required mechanical and electro-mechanical devices installed at each of its corner, a Pivoting Axle solution in comparison contains only one suspension member per fore-and-aft drivetrain and no actuators at all.

Just in terms of safety alone, where an electric failure taking place at a single corner axle would potentially lead to a catastrophic outcome at high speeds, a Pivoting Axle equipped vehicle in comparison would remain steerable thanks to its remaining axle mounted motor as well as from its additional still intact fully steerable Pivoting Axle.

A single Pivoting Axle mounted at each fore-and-aft end of an eMze and controlled by a simple CPU enables it to accelerate, decelerate, steer, dampen and theoretically brake without reverting to any additional hardware components. It’s all controlled by software codes!

Nothing else can compete against that on sheer simplicity, cost and ROI!

Éric Deschamps


ATHENA Technolo-G INC.

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